Micah Richards Needs Man City Form and Fitness Before a Return to England Squad

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Micah Richards of Manchester City in action during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at Etihad Stadium on October 2, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Roy Hodgson's most recent England squad selection was relatively straight forward in terms of his defenders; Ashley Cole's injury meant a call-up for Kieran Gibbs at left-back, and Glen Johnson's continued absence will see Kyle Walker continue on the right.

It might not have been quite so simple though, if Micah Richards had been able to keep himself fit for club and country over the past 15 months.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Joe Hart the Manchester City goalkeeper and team mate Micah Richards celebrate following their victory during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Final match between Manchester City and Stoke City at Wembley Stadium on May 14, 2011 in L
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Only two years ago, Richards was being lauded on national television in England as one of the best attacking full-backs anywhere, let alone English-based, as Manchester City won the Premier League title.

His 2012-13 campaign was an altogether different scenario.

Richards turned down the opportunity to be on standby for England's Euro 2012 campaign, with Martin Kelly taking his place—and eventually making the European Championships when injuries meant the standby was required for the full squad.

The City defender, as per Jamie Jackson in the Guardian, insists this was not a mistake.

It was one of those where Stuart Pearce asked me to go to the Olympics and not go on standby [for Euro 2012]. If I went on standby I might not have made the Olympics and that was one of the highlights of my career.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 16:  Micah Richards of Team GB Men's Football answers questions from the media during the Team GB Football press conference at Team GB House on July 16, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Pablo Zabaleta's return to form and a spate of injuries, including one needing a knee operation, ruined the rest of that season though, as Richards made only seven league appearances, with just three starts in all competitions from November onwards.

Having just turned 25 years of age, missing basically the entirety of last season and the start of this one has robbed him of what should have been a big period for Richards, in the peak physical condition of his carer.

Now he has a new manager to convince of his worth at club level, a rival in the form of his life in Zabaleta and at least three challengers to contend with at international level when he finally gets back there.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at the Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

England duty, though, is something which should be a long way off in Richards' mind right now.

Further comments in the Guardian piece indicate that it's something he wants for the future but isn't minded to expect now, or possibly at all under Roy Hodgson.

I'm not going to beg for him to pick me, I'm not some sort of charity case. If he needs me I will be there because everyone wants to play for their country. I always take it as it comes. I have not been involved for two years. Stuart Pearce gave me a game when he got it, I want to play for my country and I would be happy if I did.

HALMSTAD, SWEDEN - JUNE 15:  Micah Richards of England celebrates after scoring against Finland during the UEFA European U21 Championships match between between England and Finland at Orjans vall on June 15, 2009 in Halmstad, Sweden.   (Photo by Phil Cole
Phil Cole/Getty Images

With this week's World Cup qualifiers the last competitive matches for England prior to the World Cup next year, a tournament they need two wins from two to be at, Richards will have limited chances to stake his claim for a place on the plane.

It's irrelevant though unless he can put a string of matches together for City.

Due to competition for places, the pressure of expectation to win and falling marginally out of favour toward the end of the successful '11-'12 campaign, the last time Richards nailed a starting place for four league games in a row was March 2012.

Add another game to the required sequence and you have to look way back to November and December of 2011, where he managed seven starts in a row, six consecutive 90-minute games, with one goal and four assists within that span of appearances.

That's the kind of form, fitness and reliability that Richards needs to be showing for Manchester City if he wants a place at the England table again—but that form was very close to two years ago.

Johnson, Walker, Kelly and Carl Jenkinson are all options for Roy Hodgson at right-back for the national team, fitness permitting. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling can cover there. Matthew Lowton, John Stones, Nathaniel Clyne, Calum Chambers and Kyle Naughton could all, feasibly, become options in the future.

Right-back is an area that England have depth in for the time being, even without a recognised, established and undisputed first-choice right now in the absence of Glen Johnson.

Richards has a huge job ahead of him to become his natural replacement, perhaps even after the forthcoming World Cup, but he certainly has the technical and physical assets to do so. His initial and biggest step, though, is going to be to become a regular for Manchester City again first.